The Nursing Home Murder

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The Nursing Home Murder
First edition
Author Ngaio Marsh
Language English
Series Roderick Alleyn
Genre Detective fiction
Publisher Geoffrey Bles
Publication date
Media type Print ()
Preceded by Enter a Murderer
Followed by Death in Ecstasy

The Nursing Home Murder (1935) is a work of detective fiction by New Zealand author Ngaio Marsh.


The British Home Secretary, Sir Derek O'Callaghan MP, has received several death threats from anarchists affiliated with Stalinist Communism - and a pleading letter threatening suicide from Jane Harden, a nurse with whom he had a short affair some months earlier. O'Callaghan's old friend and family physician, Sir John Phillips, visits to ask about O'Callaghan's relationship with Jane. She is Phillips's scrub nurse and Phillips has loved her from afar for years. O'Callaghan brutally informs Phillips that Jane is "easy" and not worth his regard; he and Phillips almost come to blows before Phillips threatens his life in front of a servant.

One week later, O'Callaghan is introducing a bill in the House of Commons to deal with anarchism when he doubles over, incapacitated by acute appendicitis. His wife, unaware of the fight or of Phillips's threats, has her husband moved to Phillips's private hospital ("nursing home" in contemporary usage) and begs Phillips to operate immediately. He does so against his own wishes, as assisted by Dr. Roberts, the anaesthetist; Dr. Thoms, the assistant surgeon; Sister Marigold, the matron; Nurse Banks, the circulating nurse; and Jane Harden, the scrub nurse. The operation goes well, but O'Callaghan weakens near the end of the operation and dies one hour later, apparently of peritonitis.

The next day, Lady O'Callaghan is going through her late husband's papers and finds both the death threats from anarchists and Jane Harden's letter. Convinced that her husband has been murdered, she calls in Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard. It turns out that O'Callaghan has died of an overdose of hyoscine, a drug used in anaesthesia. Suspicion rests not just on Phillips and Harden but also on Nurse Banks, an outspoken Communist whose constant vicious insults toward O'Callaghan during the operation have led to her dismissal.

Alleyn's digging reveals that it would have been possible for any member of the surgical team to have committed the crime. He learns that Harden loved O'Callaghan to the point that even after his death she was unable to return Phillips's feelings; that Banks is a member of an anarchist society almost completely controlled by the authorities (and which has more bark than bite, as Alleyn finds out when he attends a meeting in disguise with his amanuensis, Nigel Bathgate); that O'Callaghan's sister, an unbalanced, shrill, unintelligent hysteric, has been bullying her brother into taking quack medicine produced by an avowed Communist; and that Dr. Roberts the anaesthetist is a firm believer in eugenics to the point that he is unable to prevent himself from expounding on the topic for hours.

Frustrated, Alleyn finally arranges for a re-enactment of the operation. During the re-enactment Sister Marigold brushes by Roberts's anaesthetic cart during a weak moment and Roberts erupts in rage, screaming that the nurse could have blown up the entire building had his cart (which carries ether) fallen over. Alleyn has Roberts removed from the room and quickly checks the cart and finds that one of the "bolts" holding the cart together is actually the top of a syringe. Hours later, he and Fox visit Roberts at his home and charge him with murder. Roberts admits to having injected O'Callaghan with hyoscine, but claims that he was justified: O'Callaghan's family had a "hereditary taint" (as shown by his sister), and it was his duty to remove such "tainted" persons from society. At the end, Alleyn points out that Roberts himself is insane and has committed dozens of similar murders, as testified to by the notches on his stethoscope.

In the epilogue Alleyn expresses doubt that Phillips and Harden will ever get together, and remarks that such things only happen in the "movie-mind".

Television Adaptation[edit]

This novel was adapted for the television series The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries, with Patrick Malahide as Roderick Alleyn.

External links[edit]


In Agatha Christie's Murder in Mesopotamia, one of the characters, Nurse Leatheran, is seen reading the book.